Yemen -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Yemen
Local Name: Al Jumhuriyah al Yamaniyah
Capital City: Sana'a
Official Currency (code): Yemeni rial (YER); 1 USD = 198 YER
Religions: Sunni Muslim - 55%; Shi'a Muslims - around 44%;Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism - less than 1%
Population: 23,013,376 (July 2008 est.)
Land Area: 527,970 sq km
Landforms: Narrow coastal plain backed by flat-topped hills and rugged mountains; dissected upland desert plains in center slope into the desert interior of the Arabian Peninsula
Climate: Mostly desert; hot and humid along west coast; temperate in western mountains affected by seasonal monsoon; extraordinarily hot, dry, harsh desert in east
Land Divisions: 20 governorates (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah)
Yemen -- History --
The land of Yemen is one of the oldest centers of civilization in the world. Between 2200 BC and the sixth century AD, it was part of the Sabaean, Awsanian, Minaean, Qatabanian, Hadhramawtian, Himyarite, and some other kingdoms, which controlled the lucrative spice trade. It was known to the ancient Romans as Arabia Felix ("Happy Arabia") because of the riches its trade generated. Augustus Caesar attempted to annex it, but the expedition failed. The Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum annexed it by around 520, and it was subsequently taken by the Sassanids Persians around 570.
In the 3rd century and again and early seventh century, many Sabaean and Himyarite people migrated out of the land of Yemen following the destructions of the Ma'rib Dam (sadd Ma'rib) and migrated to North Africa and the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula. In the 7th century, Islamic caliphs began to exert control over the area. After the caliphate broke up, the former North Yemen came under the control of imams of various dynasties usually of the Zaidi sect, who established a theocratic political structure that survived until modern times. Egyptian Sunni caliphs occupied much of North Yemen throughout the eleventh century. By the sixteenth century and again in the nineteenth century, north Yemen was part of the Ottoman Empire, and during several periods its imams exerted control over south Yemen.
In 1839, the British occupied the port of Aden and established it as a colony in September of that year. They also set up a zone of loose alliances (known as protectorates) around Aden to act as a protective buffer. North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and became a republic in 1962. In 1967, the British withdrew and gave back Aden to Yemen due to the extreme pressure of battles with the North and its Egyptian allies. After the British withdrawal, this area became known as South Yemen. The two countries were formally united as the Republic of Yemen on May 22, 1990.
Yemen -- Economy --
GDP (purchasing power parity): $56.24 billion (2007 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $21.66 billion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2.8% (2007 est.)
Unemployment rate: 35% (2003 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 10% (2007 est.)
Yemen is by all respects a poor country, and today it is totally dependent on remittances sent from Yemenis working abroad. At the time of unification, South Yemen and North Yemen had vastly different but equally struggling underdeveloped economic systems. Since unification, the economy has been forced to sustain the consequences of Yemen’s support for Iraq during the 1990–91 Gulf War: Saudi Arabia expelled almost 1 million Yemeni workers, and both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait significantly reduced economic aid to Yemen. The 1994 civil war further drained Yemen’s economy. As a consequence, for the past 10 years Yemen has relied heavily on aid from multilateral agencies to sustain its economy. In return, it has pledged to implement significant economic reforms.
Yemen's north has only agriculture as an economic base. The little there is of industry is only producing for a domestic market. Most Yemenis are engaged in agriculture and herding. N Yemen produces grain, fruits, vegetables, khat (a stimulant-containing shrub), coffee, cotton, and livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, and camels) but is dependent on imports for most of its essential needs. Terraced agriculture, dating from ancient times, is still practiced. Some mountain areas offer quite good conditions for life, thanks to the good conditions for agriculture. Despite the general lack of modern goods (bad roads, few cars, few telephones and TV-sets, etc.), this part of Yemen is well endowed from nature's side, and famine and drought is as good as nonexisting.
Yemen's south (from the city of Aden and up the coast in direction of Oman) is by far poorer than the north, but represents the promising aspects for the future. Many expect that there will be large finds of petroleum and other minerals in the future. These prospects were the main reason for the southern part to want to break free from north in 1994, a disagreemt that lead to the civil war of 1994. The climate is arid in the south, and only a fraction of the land is arable. Pastoralism is prevalent and the greatest amount of industry is located in Aden. There is fishing, food processing, salt mining, and small-scale manufacturing, including cotton textiles, leather goods, handicrafts, and aluminum products.
Yemen has some mineral industries but few efforts have been put into exploitation, due to heavy needs of investments, and only medium prospects for profits. The country produces and refines petroleum, and oil export revenues have boosted the economy since the late 1980s. Yemen is a small oil producer and does not belong to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Unlike many regional oil producers, Yemen relies heavily on foreign oil companies that have production-sharing agreements with the government. Income from oil production constitutes 70 to 75 percent of government revenue and about 90 percent of exports. Yemen contains proven crude oil reserves of more than 4 billion barrels (640,000,000 m3), although these reserves are not expected to last more than 15 to 20 years, and output from the country’s older fields is falling.
Important trading partners include China, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Switzerland. Yemen's GDP is supplemented by remittances from Yemenis working abroad and by large amounts of foreign aid. One of the principal reasons for Southern Yemen's merger with (Northern) Yemen in 1990 was the steady decline of its economy and the loss of Soviet political and economic support. Pervasive corruption, however, has hindered new economic development in unified Yemen.
Yemen -- Culture and Lifestyle --
Yemen is a part of the Islamic world and as such reflects many of the contemporary trends in Islam. Most Yemenis are Muslim and are tolerant of non-Muslims as well as of the various branches of Islam. While proud of their Islamic heritage, Yemenis are also intensely proud of their pre-Islamic history, including that of the Saba' and Hadramawt kingdoms. In their extensive networks of overland and maritime trade, the ancient Yemenis encountered myriad cultures and civilizations. There is ample evidence of Greek, Roman, Indian, Indonesian, and Chinese influence on various aspects of both traditional and contemporary Yemeni culture. Similarities have been drawn, for example, between marriage institutions in India and Yemen and between religious music in Yemen and Byzantine masses.
No doubt the best-known artifact of Yemeni culture is its domestic architecture, which dates back more than 2,000 years. In the mountainous interior, buildings are constructed of stone blocks and bricks, both baked and sun-dried; these buildings, housing extended families, rise to four to six stories, with highly decorated windows and other features designed to beautify them and emphasize their height. The city of Sanaa and the towns of Zabid and Shibam are noted for their architecture, and each has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Yemen shares in many of the customs and lifeways that are found in other parts of the Arab world. Culture is intensely patriarchal, and households usually consist of an extended family living in a single domicile or family compound. Marriages are almost always arranged and frequently are undertaken at a young age. Although the opinion of a potential bride or groom might be solicited on the issue, the final decision on marriage belongs with the head of the household.
Women play a secondary role in running the household and raising the children and, in rural areas, helping to work the family farm. The 1994 constitution of Yemen has granted equal rights to women. However, outside the family, gender disparities are visibly seen in the society. The conservative religious authorities strongly recommend segregation of sexes. In urban centers, women are employed in educational and health care sectors. The cultural values of Yemen include decency, hospitality and respect for elders. The holy text of Koran has become one with the life of Yemenis. The familiarity of people with Koran is versatile that, one would see them profusely quoting from it in day-to-day affairs.
Yemeni society is tribally based, and trust and assurance most often are measured by degree of consanguinity. Families are very close and are the focus of the individual’s primary devotion; one’s second allegiance is to the tribe, an extended family unit that ordinarily traces its ties to a common eponymous ancestor. In rural Yemen, state authority is weak, and disputes between tribes are frequently solved through violence. The art of the feud is still quite real, and, as a consequence, Yemen is a gun culture. Virtually every household has at least one weapon, and men and boys often carry firearms in public. Even when not carrying a pistol or a rifle, most Yemeni males—particularly those belonging to a rural tribe—will carry a dagger, the traditional janbiyyah or jambiyyah, a short, broad, curved blade sheathed on a belt worn across the abdomen and serving as a signal of one’s status within social and tribal hierarchies.
Unquestionably the most important and distinctive social institution and form of recreation in Yemen is the khat party, or khat “chew.” This is especially true in the northern part of the country, but, since the slight increase in general prosperity in the 1970s, the use of khat has spread to virtually all levels of Yemeni society. Much gets done at these pleasurable sessions: gossip is exchanged, serious matters are discussed and debated, political and business decisions are made, business is transacted, disputes and grievances are settled, Yemeni history and lore are passed on, and music and poetry are played and recited.
Dances, performed with or without musical accompaniment, are a feature of weddings and other social occasions; these are performed by men and women separately. The male dances are often performed with the janbiyyah dagger.
Yemen -- Political system, law and government --
President:Ali Abdullah Saleh (2006)
Vice President: Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi (2006)
Prime Minister: Ali Mohammed Mujur (2003)
Yemen is a republic with a bicameral legislature. The head of state is the president, who appoints the vice president and the prime minister; the latter is the head of government. The president holds office for no more than two seven-year terms and is assisted by a cabinet. The bicameral legislature consists of two houses: the House of Representatives, whose members are elected by universal adult suffrage every six years, and the Shura (Consultative) Council, whose members are appointed by the president. The legislature oversees the executive, discusses and drafts legislation, and authorizes government budgets and economic plans. The constitution may be modified with a two-thirds vote by the House of Representatives.
The constitution calls for an independent judiciary. The former northern and southern legal codes have been unified. The legal system includes separate commercial courts and a Supreme Court based in Sana'a. Since the country is an Islamic state, the Islamic Law (Sharia) is the main source for laws. Indeed, many court cases are debated by the religious basis of the laws. For this reason, many judges are religious scholars as well as legal authorities. Unlike Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states, however, the consumption of alcohol by non-Muslims is tolerated, and the mild stimulant qat is chewed by Yemenis of all strata of society, despite being banned or frowned upon by other Muslim countries and groups.
After the unification Yemen eventually embraced an administrative system based, as in South Yemen, on a series of governorates—20 in total, not counting Sanaa, which forms its own unit. The governorates are in turn divided into several hundred districts. The governors of the governorates are appointed by the federal president, but each jurisdiction has its own elected council. The trend in both the north and the south was to provide the governorates with a high degree of autonomy.
The combined armed forces of Yemen, including army, air force, and navy, are small and poorly equipped by the standards of the region. Since the unification of the state in 1990, the manpower of Yemen’s conventional army has suffered a general decline. The extensive inventories of Eastern-bloc weapons that the country inherited rapidly became dated, and many weapons systems were discarded. The military consists of volunteers serving two-year enlistments, and there is no consistent military educational or professional development system or enlisted personnel or officers.